Total Silence or Gossip Central: How Close Should You Be With Your Hairstylist?
Lady Gaga dances with her hairstylist. Jennifer Aniston poses topless with hers. In the salon chair, some of us are chatty Cathys, and some prefer to sit in silence.
For some women raised on the feel-good ethos of Steel Magnolias and Legally Blonde, where salons were sacred spaces and the bond between stylist and client almost therapeutic, a hair appointment is more than just a cut or color.
“We’re the first ones to know about cheating, pregnancies, wedding plans, job interviews, health changes, doctors visits,” Devin Toth, a stylist at Salon SCK in New York’s Upper East Side, told The Daily Beast. “I see many of my clients more than I see my parents or best friends.”
This weekend, Lady Gaga walked the red carpet of The Daily Front Row awards with longtime hairstylist Frederic Aspiras on her arm. The newly-single Gaga and Aspiras mugged for the cameras like professionals, holding hands, cheek-kissing, and even dancing for the paparazzi.
Gaga’s Ginger Rogers-esque hair remained perfectly placed, even as Aspiras dipped her backwards, a true testament to his skill.
Hairdressers have long held their status as Professional Cool Kids in School. In the 1960s, Kenneth Battelle—known as Mr. Kenneth—became one of the first celebrity stylists, coiffing the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.
But in 1977, the late Battelle told People that he “discourage[d]” famous clients from dishing their discretions.
Generations later, stylists leverage their contacts differently. Jen Atkin parlayed her relationship with the Kardashian family into Ouai, a hair-care line reportedly worth $20 million in sales. Serge Normant gave interviews about the motive behind Meghan Markle's wedding day “messy bun” and explained how to recreate it at home.
Even Jennifer Aniston posed topless with Chris McMillan, longtime stylist and creator of “The Rachel” for a 2015 Allure spread. The resulting black-and-white image of McMillan clutching Aniston (and her beachy curls) in a big bear hug was more platonic and less John and Yoko by Annie Leibovitz.
Lauren Levinson, editorial director of the beauty website Spotlyte, has spent seven years entrusting Dhiran Mistry of David Mallett Salon with her hair. “We’ve been in a relationship longer than either of us has known our partners,” Levinson said. “He was there for me doing breakups. He was there for me on my wedding day, doing my hair. I don’t ask him what haircuts I should get anymore; I just let him do his thing. He knows my hair and he knows me.”
For Toth, a stylist doing the hair of a chatty customer shares a similar experience with the Uber driver whose tipsy rider spills the details of her late night hookup, or the bartender refilling the glass of a lovelorn patron.
There is one crucial difference. “We touch you, your hair, and there is no partition,” Toth said. “Imagine the intimacy and vulnerability we get.”
For some millennials, the thought of being trapped in conversation for the entire duration of a haircut can feel claustrophobic. “I used to feel such pressure to chat [during appointments],” beauty writer Rachel Nussbaum said. “I would bring a book or read a magazine, but with all the hair pulling and head angling, it was tough.”
Though the first date-esque “am I not talking enough” jitters are real, for most stylists, a quiet client is appreciated.
On a busy day, Stephanie Brown, a New York-based colorist, can power through up to 12 appointments. “It can be emotionally exhausting, going from one person to the next, and having to give a lot of energy to them, too,” she said.
Silent cuts are a way to recharge. For Brown, “It's fine if someone does not want to talk. It's meditative for me, like going through the motions.” It can also help the pro concentrate, and appointments move faster when a stylist is not punctuating girl talk with wild gesticulations.
Recently, Toth, the Upper West Side stylist, had a first appointment with a woman he had never worked with before, who came into the salon “dressed to the nines.” After washing her hair, Toth attempted small talk, asking if the woman had any plans for her dressy day.
“With just her eyes, she looked upward, into the station's mirror and answered 'Yes' back. That was it,” Toth remembered. She moved her eyes back down and stayed silent for the rest of her 30-minute appointment.
But, according to Toth, when they were finished, “She had this huge smile.” Instead of feeling offended by her lack of chitchat, “I was very happy that she had that time to herself.”